Tonga’s Emergency Regulations Renewed Listen to this article. Powered by Odiogo.com

By Ryan L. Maness
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Oceania

NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga – Tonga’s Government has elected to renew emergency powers for a further thirty days in parts of capital city.  The acting chief secretary and the secretary to the cabinet, Paula Ma’u, confirmed today that the Public Safety and Public Security Regulations had been extended.  According to Ma’u the regulations were renewed based upon the recommendation by the Minister of Police.
Under these renewed powers the police have the authority to stop and search any vehicle without a warrant, as well as to seek evidence inside of any vehicle.  The powers also allow officers wider authority to make arrests.  These powers have been criticized by international rights organizations for being an abuse of power and an attempt to frustrate the pro-democracy movement.
The emergency powers were originally put into place in November 2006 after a riot broke out in the heart of the capital city of Nuku’alofa.  The riot began when a group broke away from a political reform rally and began looting local businesses.  Throughout the course of the riot 150 businesses, mostly owned by people of Chinese origins, were destroyed.
For more information, please see:
Australian Broadcasting Corporation – Tonga extends emergency rule – 20 February 2009
Radio New Zealand International – Emergency regulations in Tonga rolled over for the 28th time – 20 February 2009
Matangi – Emergency Powers extended another 30 days – 19 February 2009

Mass Strikes Over Living Conditions in El Salvador’s Prisons

By Karla E General
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – Fourteen of El Salvador’s nineteen prisons are now embroiled in mass protests over prisoner living conditions. Inmates have refused to return to their cells, take part in workshops and other activities, allow prisoners to enter or leave the facilities, or allow visitors or medical personnel in. Prisoners are demanding better living conditions before they cooperate with authorities, who are currently on standby in case intervention is needed to restore order.

The protests began on Saturday with eleven prisons and had spread to fourteen by Monday. El Salvador’s prison system is notorious for being massively overcrowded and affording very minimal rights and protections for the prisoner population, which is currently numbered at 20,000 in a prison system that was built to house only 8,000 people. The government has been called upon consistently in the past to address the mass imprisonment of El Salvadorans.

Prisons director Gilbert Caceres blamed the uprisings on inmates who were being manipulated by gangs involved in organized crime.

For more information, please see:

The Earth Times Mass Protests in El Salvador Prisons – 16 February 2009

Radio Netherlands Worldwide – Unrest in El Salvador’s Overcrowded Prisons – 16 February 2009

Cambodia Opens Landmark Khmer Rouge Trial

By Pei Hu
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia —On February 17th, Cambodia began the trial for the atrocities of the “Killing Fields.” Former Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, also known as “Duch”, faces charges of crimes against humanity. Duch, now 66, is accused of presiding over the deaths of 15,000 men, women, and children in Tuol Sleng prison over 30 years ago.

The UN-funded tribunal was established in 2006 and after much delay and controversy, the tribunal opened for the first time on Tuesday. The tribunal is to try Duch on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and premeditated murder. Duch faces a possible life sentence and the tribunal does not impose the death penalty. “This first hearing represents the realization of significant efforts in establishing a fair and independent tribunal to try those in senior leadership positions,” chief judge Nil Nonn said at the opening of the trial.

The Khmer Rouge regime killed 2 million people which nearly wiped out a quarter of the country’s population.  Tuol Sleng prison was used to extract false confessions from alleged traitors who were under suspicion of being agents of foreign powers including the CIA. Many inmates were taken to nearby Choeung Ek, an orchard now known as the “Killing Fields.” Adults were beaten to death while children’s heads were smashed against trees. “I prayed for dawn as soon as possible so that I could see this trial start,” said artist Vann Nath, one of the few survivors from the prison.

On Tuesday, the hearing adjourned after seven hours of legal arguments, which mainly dealt with the admissibility of witnesses. Duch’s defense lawyer Francois Roux complained to the court that it was “unacceptable” that Duch had been held without trial for more than nine years. After the first day of trial, Roux told reporters that Duch acknowledged the charges against him and wished to use proceedings to publicly ask forgiveness from his victims as well as all other Cambodian people.

Roux told the press, “Duch will try to explain some things, but he can’t explain all that happened. Is it possible to explain what has gone against humanity itself?”

Like most of the Khmer Rouge’s top figures, Duch lived freely for years until he was arrested in 1999. He was formally transferred to the tribunal in July 2007. Currently, Duch is held at villa along with four top Khmer Rouge leaders, who will face trial later this year.

Kan Hann, whose brother and sister died of starvation and overwork under the Khmer Rouge, came to the trial on Tuesday. “My dream has come true now as I have been waiting for the trial for 30 years,” he said.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Cambodia Killing Fields Trial Opens; The Chief Accused Expresses Remorse– February 2009

APF – Cambodia opens landmark ‘Killing Fields’ trial – 17 February 2009

New York Times – Khmer Rouge Genocide Trial Opens in Cambodia – 17 February 2009

APF – Picture of Dutch on Trial

Mexican Border Towns Protest Federal Troops Violence

By Maria E. Molina
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

MONTERREY, Mexico – Hundreds of people in Mexico have blocked key crossings into the US in protests against army deployment and operations to fight drug traffickers.  Traffic was brought to a halt on a number of bridges in several border towns in northern Mexico.  The protesters accused the army of abuse against civilians. The protesters blocked bridges in Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa. Government officials claimed drug gangs, which paid people to do so, had organized the blockades and the protests.

Police chased protesters away with water cannons.  The protesters chanted “Soldiers out!” and “Stop abuse by the Federal Preventative Police!” The demonstrators also shut roads in the industrial city of Monterrey.

Mexico’s President Calderon has sent 45,000 troops and federal police across Mexico to fight drug gangs since late 2006. According to Mexican officials, more than 5,400 people were killed in drug-related violence last year.  In some parts of the country, the army has taken over the role of the police, which have often proved easily corrupted when bribed or threatened by the gangs.

Many of the protesters said border towns had become more dangerous since President Felipe Calderon sent the army in. On Tuesday, for example, ten people died and fifteen were wounded in a gun battle between federal troops and a drug hitmen in Reynosa. Human rights activists say there are legitimate complaints about reported abuses by the troops, including alleged cases in which army patrols have fired on civilians at checkpoints. Calderon, however, has Washington’s support for using the army. Bloodshed across the Mexican border has prompted some experts in recent months to issue dire warnings about Mexico’s future stability and the potential security risks to the United States.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Mexicans block US border in anti-army protest – 18 February 2009

BBC News – Marchers block Mexico-US border – 18 February 2009

Reuters – Mexicans protest army campaign against drug cartels – 18 February 2009

Pelosi says U.S. Won’t Press Allies on Guatanamo Inmates

By Gabrielle Meury
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America


ROME, Italy-
U.S. President Barack Obama is not expected to ask Washington’s allies to host inmates from Guantanamo prison unless they have citizens detained there, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Monday.Obama has ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, closed within a year, but the fate of the prisoners there remains a big question, particularly those who cannot return to their own countries.

Obama had been expected to ask EU states to take in some of the roughly 245 remaining detainees.
“I don’t think we’ll see a situation where the president will be asking countries to accept people unless it happens to be the country of origin,” Pelosi told reporters during a trip to Italy. “And then it’s up to the country’s discretion as to whether they would accept them or not.”

President George W. Bush’s administration failed to persuade its allies, in particular those in the 27-nation EU, to take in inmates who were unable to return to their home country and who the United States did not want to accept either. They included Chinese Muslim Uighurs who Washington said cannot return to China because they would face persecution, together with Libyans, Uzbeks and Algerians also seen at risk.

Pelosi recalled that Obama ordered a review process to look at the nature of the detention of Guantanamo inmates, some of whom have been held for years without trial. “President Obama has said that he will have a review of every situation, every person, at Guantanamo to establish the facts of why they are there,” she said.”When that is determined, there will be some resolution of what to do with these people, some going back to their country of origin.”

The Pentagon says some 520 detainees have been released from Guantanamo since 2002. About 60 others have been declared eligible for transfer or release but remain at the prison pending discussions with other governments. “One thing is for sure: Guantanamo will be closed and the president intends to do it correctly,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi said that the US administration is committed to a “new era of cooperation” with its allies
She added: “We have to make a judgement. … And I mean we, Italy, the European Union, the United States, NATO — all of us — as to what is in our national security interests, and we have to make a commitment that is commensurate with that but which is not … impossible to achieve.”

For more information, please see:
AFP- Pelosi pledges ‘new era of cooperation’ between US, allies-16 February 2009

International Herald Tribune- Pelosi says U.S. won’t press allies on Guantanamo inmates– 16 February 2009

AP- Officials say Italy will not take Gitmo inmates– 16 February 2009



Tongan Women Lobby For Increased Representation

By Sarah E. Treptow
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

NUKUALOFA, Tonga– A group of more than 50 women has started lobbying for a greater voice in Parliament.  The group wants a quota of 30 percent political representation and has started a campaign to gather support to begin the quota under the new system of government being developed for 2010.  Betty Blake of the Catholic Women’s League says the group believes mixed political decision-making would lead to a more prosperous economy.  Ms. Blake said, “We feel that women have a place, they have a lot to say.  They can contribute to the development of our country economically, socially, and any other aspects of life.”  She reports that half of the male MPs support the proposal, with one objection being the possibility of all women MPs taking maternity leave at the same time.

Polotu Fakafanua Paunga from the Women’s Affairs Division of the Ministry of Education said the primary objective of today’s consultation meeting was to discuss their proposal that will be submitted before the deadline on February 23.  He said the next step will be to draft the written submission and gather signatures.  A follow-up meeting will be held next week.  The Electoral Commission requires signed submissions from the public be made by a group of at least 200 people over 21 years of age.

Only five women have entered the Tongan Parliament since 1975, including the first woman appointed as Cabinet Minister, Hon ‘Alisi Taumoepeau.

For more information, please see:

Pacific Islands Report – Tongan Women Seek Better Representation in Parliament – 16 February 2009

Radio New Zealand International – Tongan women lobby for 30% representation in Parliament – 16 February 2009

Solomon Star News – Tongan women lobby for 30% representation in Parliament – 17 February 2009

Tight Security in Tibet

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – China has sentenced 76 people involved in rioting during the March 14 violence in Lhasa, and detained more than 950 since last year’s deadly riots in Tibet, state media reported. The report comes at the most sensitive time in years: the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan rebellion on March 14.  The local government has launched a “strike hard” campaign to stop rebels from celebrating the 50th anniversary.

Tsering Shakya, from the Institute for Asian Research at the University of British Colombia, said: “The security setup and the preparedness of the security is on very high alert, so there is no element of surprise that the protesters could use. It is really very, very unlikely that there could be any protests like there were last year.”

The deputy mayor of Lhasa, Cao Bianjiang, said fresh unrest could not be ruled out.  He emphasizes he wanted to focus on fostering growth that would ensure stability, but exiled Tibetans were scared this would make them irrelevant. “We hope for peace and stability in Lhasa. However, some people do not want to see Lhasa enjoy economic growth and people enjoy happy life, ” Cao said.

A year after monks’ protests, Buddhist monasteries have reopened, but officials keep a very tight security.  Inside of the historic Drepung monastery, monks take patriotic education classes on Chinese law, and their Buddhist scripture studies.  Monks were kept closeted away from foreign journalists and tourists accepted government-organized and tightly controlled visits.

For more information, please see
:

AP – Official: Tibetan areas closed to foreigners – 12 February 2009

BBC – Economics ‘masking China rights record’ – 11 February 2009

Reuters – More Tibet unrest cannot be ruled out: official – 10 February 2009

Reuters – Tibet’s religious life still bruised by Lhasa riots – 10 February 2009

Times of India – China releases details of detention of Tibetan rebels – 11 February 2009

U.S. Urges Pakistan to Help Capture Taliban Leaders

By Shayne R. Burnham
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PAKISTAN – U.S. and NATO forces are concentrating their military efforts in Quetta, the capital of the Baluchistan Province, Pakistan. Quetta is believed to be the center of operations for Taliban leaders and where the group has been sending supplies such as arms, money and fighters to southern Afghanistan.

Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar is one of many said to be hiding in Quetta. It is claimed that he guides commanders in southern Afghanistan, raises money from Gulf donors and delivers arms and fighters.

The U.S. intends to send about 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, but military officials say that this effort may be fruitless unless Pakistan assists in capturing Taliban leaders and cutting supply lines into Afghanistan.

U.S. and other western officials claim that Pakistani security forces do little to address the presence of Taliban military commanders in Quetta.

Pakistani officials state that their intelligence does not indicate where Taliban leaders are located.

“Pakistan will act against any individuals involved with Al Qaeda or the Taliban about whom we have actionable intelligence,” said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. “The problem is we do not always get actionable intelligence in Quetta in particular. It’s a very messy area.”

Some officials understand the hardship of the Pakistani government in Islamabad in capturing Taliban leaders. The Baluchistan Province has been a known hostile area to the government and it is difficult for government spies to get sources there.

However, members of the Obama administration believe that it must put pressure upon the Pakistani government to aid in U.S. efforts. “We’ve made some progress going into the tribal areas and North-West Frontier Province against Al Qaeda, but we have not had a counterpart war against the Quetta shura,” said a senior Obama administration official. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that the Obama administration will threaten to cut off military aid to Islamabad unless Pakistan carries out a crackdown on militants operating throughout the country.

For more information, please see:

Associated Press – Pakistan Complicit in Killing by Taliban, a Polish Official Says – 10 February 2009

International Herald Tribune – The Taliban in Pakistan are Raising U.S. Fears – 10 February 2009

Newsweek – Pakistan’s Dangerous Double Game – 13 September 2008

Guatemala’s Child Malnutrition Rate Approaches Fifty Percent

By Karla E General
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala – A study released on Thursday in Guatemala City indicates that 45.6 percent of Guatemalan children suffer from chronic malnutrition. The lack of adequate nutrition has led to a significantly lower physical growth rate than the average established by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The national census determined that children between the ages of eight and nine were most affected by malnutrition with girls being disproportionately affected; for instance, Guatemalan girls are, on average, eight to twelve centimeters shorter than the average set by the WHO.

The effects of malnutrition are intensified within the Indigenous provinces of Solola and Totonicapan where the study found that 49.7 percent of children suffer from malnutrition and one in every sixteen will die before reaching the age of five. An earlier study by the Catholic Relief Services attributed the high malnutrition rate to the thirty year civil war and decades of political policies that have excluded Mayan Indigenous people from accessing basic services such as health care and education. Juan Aguilar, head of the presidency’s Food Security Secretariat, added that the high malnutrition rate among children was a result of inadequate food, high levels of poverty, and a dearth of basic services.

For more information, please see:

Relief Web – Breaking Malnutrition’s Cycle in Guatemala – 25 January 2009

Baltimore Sun – Viewpoint: School Lunches Can Nourish Hope – 26 January 2009

Latin American Herald Tribune – Nearly Half of Guatemala’s Children Suffer from Malnutrition – 15 February 2009

Fiji Interim Government to Hold Second Political Dialogue Meeting in March

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – Fiji’s interim Attorney Generals says that, before the President’s Dialogue Forum convenes, the interim government should hold a second political dialogue meeting to discuss the agenda and terms of reference to be discussed at that Forum.

Interim Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, called for this second meeting during his discussions with a joint technical team made up of representatives from the United Nations and Commonwealth. Last week, the joint team traveled to Fiji to conduct a fact-finding mission on the country’s political situation.

Mr. Sayed-Khaiyum says his discussions with the joint team included the scope of issues to be discussed at the impending President’s Dialogue Forum.

The interim Attorney General also says that interim Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, is eager to use the Forum to better assess political opinions among Non-Governmental Organizations as well as civil society groups.

FijiLive reports that the second political dialogue is scheduled for the first or second week of March.

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International – Fiji’s interim administration says second political dialogue meeting to be held in March – 15 February 2009

FijiTimes – Our last chance – 10 February 2009

Uzbek Refugee on Trial

By Shayne R. Burnham
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

UZBEKISTAN – Haiatjon Juraboev, a refugee, was abducted from Kyrgyzstan last year and returned to Uzbekistan where he is now believed to be on trial.  He is charged with religious extremism and illegal border crossing. The trial was scheduled on January 30.

“We’re very concerned about Juraboev’s safety and well-being in Uzbek custody,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Kyrgyzstan’s failure to protect him is a sad reflection on the state of that country’s refugee protection system.”

In 2007, Juraboev was extradited by the Russian government to Uzbekistan.  He was subsequently arrested and released with no charges.  Juraboev then fled to Kyrgyzstan and registered as an asylum seeker by the Kyrgyz State Committee for Migration and Employment.  He was granted refugee status by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in September 2008.

While in Kyrgystan, Juraboev was at a mosque in Bishkek, the capital.  A man claiming to be a Kyrgyz National Security Service officer directed him into a car.  He disappeared until January when his mother learned he was in Tashkent prison.

Human Rights Watch wrote a letter to President Kurmanbek Bakiev of Kyrgyzstan in December.  They asked the government to protect and stop deporting refugees and asylum seekers.  It also calls for the investigations in the disappearances.

“The Uzbek government has made clear it will continue to hound dissidents within and outside its international borders without letting its legal obligations get in the way,” said Cartner. “The Kyrgyz government needs to confirm or deny that its National Security Service apprehended and forcibly returned Juraboev. If it was not involved, then Kyrgyzstan should protest to the Uzbek government that foreign agents operating on its soil abducted and returned an Uzbek refugee, and demand his return.”

Human Rights Watch further states that the Kyrgyz and Uzbek government should collaborate in bringing justice to those responsible for these abductions.

Since 2005, Kyrgyzstan has extradited more than a dozen refugees to Uzbekistan.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Uzbekistan:  Abducted Refugee on Trial – 5 February 2009

Radio Free Europe/Radio Free Liberty – Uzbek Refugee Returned to Uzbekistan for Trial – 10 February 2009

Reuters – Rights Group Urges Kyrgyzstan Not to Extradite Uzbek – 14 May 2008

Fiji’s Interim Regime’s Motives Questioned

By Sarah E. Treptow
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – Commodore Frank Bainimarama says he did not overthrow the Qarase government in 2006 to seize power and remain in control.  He made it known to the Vice President of China Xi Jinping during a meeting that the military will only stay in power until all of its objectives are achieved.

Bainimarama explained, “The military, essentially assumed control of the Government with clear objectives to eliminate corruption, racial discrimination policies and practices, and to bring about necessary reforms in the area of public service, governance as well as the electoral system in an effort to build a better and more progressive Fiji.”

Bainimarama said Fiji will return to a system of parliamentary democracy, “the timing of which will be determined by the people of Fiji alone.”

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Colonel Jone Baledrokadroka, the former commander of the Fiji military land force says the military will remain a part of Fiji’s political landscape.  Baledrokadroka said the Government has been militarized at all levels, from ministerial positions to permanent secretaries in all departments.  He continued, “They’ve put people all over our Government. Now they’re talking about municipal councils. So it seems they have a plan to be in power.”

Fiji’s National Federation Party general secretary, Pramod Rae, says Fiji’s people are sick of uncertainty, so it is incumbent that the interim regime commits to a return to parliamentary democracy.

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International – Fiji’s NFP says Forum 2009 deadline achievable – 10 February 2009

Islands Business – Military not power hungry: Bainimarama – 11 February 2009

Pacific Islands Report – Former Fiji Commander Says Military ‘To Stay’ – 12 February 2009

Fiji Times – ‘Hidden agenda’ in army call-up – 12 February 2009

Vietnam Releases Anti-Corruption Journalist

By Pei Hu
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

HANOI, Vietnam – Nguyen Viet Chien, a well known anti-corruption reporter for the Thanh Nien newspaper, was granted the Lunar New Year amnesty. On January 15th, Vietnamese President Nguyen Mihn Triet signed for Chien’s freedom before his jail term ended. Chien is one amongst 15,000 prisoners to be freed before the prisoner’s jail term.

Among those to be released as part of the Lunar New Year amnesty are 36 foreigners including 19 Chinese, five Taiwanese, four Cambodians, three Malaysians, one Briton, one French, one South Korean, one Laotian, and one Sri Lankan.

In May 2008, Chien and his colleague Nguyen Van Hai was arrested for covering a high profile scandal where government officials were accused of misusing large sums of public funds. In October Chien was charged with “abusing freedom and democratic rights” and sentenced to two years in jail. Throughout trial Chien maintained his innocence. Chien’s arrest and conviction caused an international outcry.

Chien’s colleague, Hai pleaded guilty and was awarded a lenient sentence to two years of re-education without detention. International Media Watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, called the prosecution of Chien and Hai as a “terrible step backwards for investigative journalism in Vietnam”.

The Vice Minister of Public Security Le The Tiem told reporters that “Nguyen Viet Chien will be released in this presidential amnesty for showing remorse while serving his sentence,” and “Mr. Chien co-operated with the authorities so he was granted this special amnesty.”

Reporters Without Borders said, “This early release is obviously a good thing in itself, but it will not make us forget that this journalist should never have gone to prison in the first place … This case now being closed, it is time for the government to introduce reforms that will prevent this kind of scandal happening again.”

For more information, please see:

AP – Official: Vietnam to Release Jailed Reporter Early– 16 January 2009

BBC – Vietnam Reporter Freed in Amnesty– 16 January 2009

RSF – Government Announces Early Release of Journalist Nguyen Viet Chien– 19 January 2009

Ill-Treatment of Rohingya in Myanmar

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YANGON, Myanmar – Hundreds of thousands Rohingya, a Muslim minority from the western part of Myanmar, have fled the country to escape poverty and oppression.  The military rulers do not recognize the Rohingya as Myanmar citizens.  They are denied citizenship under the1982 citizenship law, and often harassed and beaten by the security forces.  They must obtain an official permit to travel from town to town.

Rohingya are subjected to routine forced labor in Myanmar.  Chris Lewa at the Arakan Project says that typically a Rohingya man will have to give up one day a week to work on military or government projects, and one night for sentry duty. However, Myanmar Buddhists living in the area are not required to do this.

Myanmar’s senior official has described the Rohingya as “ugly as ogres.”  According to the South China Morning Post, the country’s Consul General Ye Myint Aung wrote to heads of foreign missions in Hong Kong and local newspapers stating the Muslim tribe should not be described as being from Myanmar.  “In reality, Rohingya are neither Myanmar people nor Myanmar’s ethnic group,” he said.  The envoy also contrasted the “dark brown” Rohingya complexion with the “fair and soft” skin of people from Myanmar, the Post reported.

The US has called on Junta to stop persecuting its Rohingya Muslim minority.  “The US was aware of the fleeing of Rohingyas from Myanmar for persecution and economic reasons,” Mr. Boucher told a news conference in Dhaka.  “It’s a matter of concern and the US wants that Myanmar stops the persecution of Rohingyas.”

According to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), about 230,000 Rohingya now live in Bangladesh, having fled from abuse by Junta.  Refugees have told stories about how the military authorities there have beaten and abused them.  Many have shown scars on their bodies they claimed were caused by Burmese soldiers whipping them as a warning not to return to the country.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Myanmar envoy brands boatpeople ‘ugly as ogres’: report – 11 February 2009

BBC – Burma ‘must stop Rohingya abuse‘ – 09 February 2009

BBC – What drives the Rohingya to sea? – 05 February 2009

Jurist – Mistreatment of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority requires coordinated regional response – 11 February 2009

Thai Soldiers Accused of Torturing in the South

By Pei Hu
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BANGKOK, Thailand – On January 13th, Amnesty International released a report accusing the Thai military of engaging in “systematic torture” on suspected Muslim insurgents in the Southern Thailand.

The Thai government has been engaged in a conflict with Malay separatists in the South since 2004 where 3,500 have died. The Muslim majority in the South mainly speaks a Malay dialect. In 2004, a group of Muslim insurgents stormed an army depot, killed 4 soldiers, stole weapons, and burned down 20 schools. As a response, the then-Thai government wanted to “win the hearts and minds” of the Muslim majority and promised a new approach to the South. Currently 30,000 Thai soldiers are stationed in the South.

Torture is outlawed in Thailand. However, in Amnesty International’s report, it documented instances of torture by Thai security forces since 2007.  34 torture cases were cited, which included four torture victims who died in custody.

Amnesty International believes there are 21 unofficial detention centers where insurgent suspects are detained and mistreated. NGOs, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, are denied access to these facilities making it difficult for human rights groups to monitor abuses. The detainees are also denied visits by relatives and lawyers.

The Muslim paramilitary units are also blamed for violence. Since 2004, insurgents have attacked civilians, targeted Buddhist monks and school teachers, and tortured and killed soldiers and police. “We understand the pressure they are under. But there are simply no circumstances under which torture is justified,” said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International South East Asia team.

The new Thai government also promised a new approach to the South. On December 25, 2008 the government formed an investigation team to look into the death of Yapa Kaseng, a local Muslim Imam. The inquest named Thai soldiers responsible for Kaseng’s death. Human rights advocates argue that criminal charges should be brought against those responsible in order for the new government’s claims to have credibility.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Thai Troops ‘Torturing in South’ – 13 January 2009

BBC –Thailand’s Savage Southern Conflict– 13 January 2009

Financial Times – Thai Army Accused of Torture in Report– 13 January 2009